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What Is Dropbox Smart Sync? A Guide for 2022

Aleksandar Kochovski
By Aleksandar Kochovski (Editor)
— Last Updated: 2020-07-13T09:13:33+00:00

Since its inception in 2007, Dropbox has become a household name, and for good reason. It is easy to use and full of attractive features. Plus, while many cloud storage services leave chunky files on your computer, Dropbox has a nifty option on both Windows and Mac called Smart Sync that lets you leave all those files online, helping you free up that much-needed hard drive space.

It is a premium feature, though, available only for paid plans. Although it does sound enticing, the Dropbox personal plan already offers a similar — if more limited — option called Selective Sync in its free Basic plan. We have a beginner’s guide on how to use Dropbox, but read on to find out more about Smart Sync and all that it offers.

What Is Dropbox Smart Sync?

Dropbox’s Smart Sync feature lets you clear space by setting your files and folders as “online only.” This means that they will only be accessible online until you decide to download them to your hard drive. Unlike with Selective Sync, you can still see these files in your Dropbox folder, meaning they’re always just a click away.

How Does Smart Sync Work?

When you set a file or folder to “online only” using Smart Sync, you create a copy of it online that’s available to you only on the Dropbox website or the mobile app. The file is gone from your hard drive, but an icon remains in the Dropbox folder representing your online file and doesn’t take up hard disk space. You can still see the file’s size, but the size on your disk will always be zero.


However, as soon as you open one of these files in the Dropbox desktop app, it will sync and download to your computer. This lets you edit your file offline, but when you’re done, you will have to manually set it to “online only” again. 


Nowadays, most cloud services offer similar functionality, and a lot of them include it in their free plans, as well. There are plenty of options out there for you to choose from. Here’s our information on the competition and what they have to offer.

How to Use Dropbox Smart Sync


You can activate Smart Sync in several ways. First, you can change your sync settings to only keep files online for your entire Dropbox folder. This is done through the “sync” tab in the “preferences” menu, accessible through the system tray icon. Your files will be visible and marked by a gray cloud icon, meaning Smart Sync is enabled for them.

You can enable Smart Sync for individual files and folders, as well. This can be done either through the “sync” tab or by right-clicking them and selecting “online only” from the Smart Sync dropdown.


Something you can’t do with Dropbox Selective Sync is preview or alter online-only files in the Dropbox app on your computer. Smart Sync lets you make some changes to these files, and you can see their size, as well, letting you easily check storage space. You can also move them around, delete them and preview them.

Should I Use Smart Sync?

If you’re a Dropbox power user and you’re already subscribed to one of the pricey higher tier plans, then yes, Smart Sync is going to be very useful for you. It’s less finicky than “selective sync” and it’s a good option to have overall.

However, if you’re on Dropbox’s free plan and you’re comparing Smart Sync vs Selective Sync, you’ll find that it offers only slight improvements in usability. Smart Sync is simply not a good reason to upgrade your plan, especially because Dropbox’s plans are among the most expensive, while competitors such as pCloud offer better features for free.

What to Do When Smart Sync Isn’t Working

If you find yourself in a pinch with Smart Sync, the first thing you should do is check your internet connection. If all is well there, check Windows Defender and your antivirus to make sure Dropbox is whitelisted.

If that doesn’t solve your problem, a good old reboot might do the trick. Then if you’re still having issues, you can check out the many articles in the Dropbox help center. You can also contact customer support, which is available either through email or live chat, or you could even ask someone on Dropbox’s forums.

Our why is my Dropbox not syncing? guide may also help.


Final Thoughts

With Smart Sync, Dropbox has taken a step in the right direction. It’s a fine feature to have, but the competition is stiff in the cloud sector, with other services like bringing similar options to the table at a lower cost.

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While it’s still worth using if you’re already on a paid plan, it’s just not a good enough reason to subscribe, as Selective Sync already covers most of what Smart Sync does, but for free. Still, it does its job and is overall a very useful feature. 

We hope this short guide will help you get started, and we recommend you download Dropbox today to check it out — it’s easy to cancel Dropbox if you don’t like it. You can also read our guides to what Dropbox is and how to sync folders outside the Dropbox folder. Thank you for reading.